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School of Physical and Chemical Sciences

Elucidating the fate of iron and copper based nanofertilizer in soil-plant system using isotope labelling and synchrotron techniques

Research Group:
Number of Students: 1
Length of Study in Years: 3-4
Full-time Project: yes


  • Available to home applicants and international students.
  • Applicant required to start in September 2024.
  • The studentship arrangement will cover home tuition fees and provide an annual stipend for up to three years (Currently set for 2023/24 as £20,622).
  • International students note that this studentship only covers home tuition fees and students will need to cover the difference in fees between the home and overseas basic rate from external sources. 

Project Description

Nanotechnology is a rapidly advancing enabling technology with the potential to revolutionize modern life. More recently, the application of nanotechnology in agriculture has garnered significant attention due to its high potential to facilitate sustainable agriculture and enhance food security. The utilization of nanomaterials (NMs) in agriculture has the potential to increase food yields while improving the efficiency of chemical fertilizer usage, thereby reducing the carbon footprint associated with their production and application. Despite these significant advantages, there is currently a lack of comprehensive understanding regarding the behavior and fate of engineered NMs, which is a prerequisite for their real-world applications. When studying the behavior of NMs, a particular challenge lies in tracking them within complex environmental and biological matrices due to background interference.

This challenge is especially prominent when dealing with NMs containing elements such as iron (Fe), copper (Cu), or zinc (Zn), which have high background concentrations in the environment. NMs are highly susceptible to their surroundings, undergoing chemical transformations, agglomeration, and acquiring evolving coatings of environmental or biological macromolecules. These processes may endow NMs with a new identity, distinct from their initial 'synthetic' identity, which complicates the detection and tracing of the transformed products. Labeling is a potent tool for assigning 'ownership' or 'source' to engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) and their transformed counterparts, and it has a range of other essential applications, including medical tracing and counterfeiting prevention. This project will leverage state-of-the-art isotope labeling techniques to facilitate the precise tracing of iron and copper-based NMs, which are used as nanofertilizers and nanopesticides. The project will combine conventional analytical methods, such as ICP-MS, with advanced techniques, including single-particle ICP-MS and synchrotron radiation-based spectroscopy and imaging techniques, to provide a comprehensive understanding of the behavior of these NMs in the soil-plant system, encompassing transport, transformation, and accumulation. The date will provide fundamental basis for the safe and responsible use of nanoagrochemicals in the future.


  • The minimum requirement for this studentship opportunity is a good Honours degree (minimum 2(i) honours or equivalent) or MSc/MRes in a relevant discipline.
  • If English is not your first language you will require a valid English certificate equivalent to IELTS 6.5+ overall with a minimum score of 6.0 in Writing and 5.5 in all sections (Reading, Listening, Speaking).

Application Method:

To apply for this studentship and for entry on to the Chemistry programme (Full Time) please follow the instructions detailed on the following webpage:

Deadline for application - 31st of January 2024

Supervisor Contact Details:

For informal enquiries about this position, please contact Dr Peng Zhang


SPCS Academics: Dr Peng Zhang